Director: Dante Lam
Writer: Jack Ng, Dante Lam
Producer: Candy Leung, Albert Lee, Ren Yue
Cast: Nick Cheung Ka Fai, Daniel Wu, Andy On Chi Kit, Ken Wong Hup Hei, Deep Ng Ho Hong, Christie Chen Si-Xuan
Running Time: 111 min.
Hong Kong action auteur, Dante Lam (Unbeatable), is back in the director’s chair with That Demon Within, which he also co-wrote. Very early on in the film, the audience is treated to an extended shootout sequence in the middle of the afternoon, between deity-masked wearing robbers and the Hong Kong police.
With his trademark ballet of bullets and slow motion close up shots, there is no mistaking this is a Dante Lam uber-violent action flick. That Demon Within, however, is not Lam’s usual action drama. It is a taut psychological crime drama that is very different from what we have come to expect from Lam.
Daniel Wu (The Last Supper), the Berkeley born Chinese-American architect turned mega-popular Hong actor, stars as Dave Wong. Wong is a psychologically imbalanced, self-flagellating beat cop wracked by guilt after inadvertently saving a hard core criminal Hon Kong (Nick Cheung of Nightfall).
Wu, normally a clean-cut, suave and dapper protagonist in most of his earlier films is drably attired and carries a dull demeanor throughout most of the film in keeping with his character. As Wong’s psyche slowly unravels, dark circles and a semi-menacing glare begins to appear as he crosses over from a straight and narrow, law enforcing police officer to a vigilante-mindset hell bent on justice at which time the lighting hue and mood turns dramatically darker.
Tormented by guilt and shunned by most of his colleagues as he slowly disintegrates psychologically. Wu’s catatonic-like characterization of Wong is believable, effective, and somewhat creepy. It is interesting to note that to date Wu (who does not read Chinese) has to have his whole script read to him in Cantonese by his assistant where he would practice enunciating and pronouncing some of the dialogue while making personal notes.
Cheung, as Hon Kong, is equally excellent as the soul-less antagonist to Wong. He is never better as the ever-smiling, charming, and sadistic criminal who kills at the slightest provocation. Lam, at a press conference for the film early this February in Berlin, called Cheung a “devil actor”. That was meant as a compliment as to why he casted Cheung, a frequent collaborator in many of his previous films (credit The Beast Stalker and won his first Best Actor Award. Not a bad collaboration over the years for both parties!). Cheung has the charisma and the “devilish” look of a villain, according to Lam, in reference to the non-handsome visage of Cheung. Cheung had previously worked with Lam way back in 2005 on
The veteran supporting casts are also very good. Standouts are veterans Ka Chi Liu and Kuan-Chun Chi. Ka Chi Liu (The Viral Factor) portrays Broker, the conniving shady funeral home owner and criminal with no loyalty or conscience as he readily betrays friends or foes, is a joy to watch as he goes about his devious schemes.
The charismatic Kuan-Chuan Chi (Five Shaolin Masters), the Hung Gar martial arts expert and frequent collaborator with legendary Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh in many classic kung fu films from the heydays of the 70s and 80s, does an excellent turn as Wong’s father. Chi, however, does not get to flex his muscles in this movie, but serves as a conscience barometer for the ever-vacillating and confused Wong.
And then there is the very busy and ubiquitous Andy On (Special ID) continuing his streak as a bad guy. On is spot on as the soft-spoken, innocent looking officer, always ready to lend a hand but he is not who he appears to be. Lam misfired here. On deserves more screen time.
Cinematographer Kenny Tse does an excellent job of making the film look very good. The lighting, sound, directing is top notch. The bright and colorful lighting changes, as the mood progressively got darker. Lam’s directing and pacing is good.
The script, however, at times gets very confusing and convoluted with the frequent use of flashbacks. The multi-layered film sometimes gets mired in too many details and Lam seems to be going off tangent trying to deal with too many elements and not being able to stay focused on the main plot and characters. A revision or two of the screenplay would have been nice. Plot and script weakness aside, Wu and Cheung’s acting makes up for it.
A Dante Lam movie wouldn’t be complete without the requisite pyrotechnics and explosions seen in the final sequence of the film. In spectacular fashion, several vehicles are engulfed in flames as a gas station blows up in smoke, taking along a couple of light poles with it.
That Demon Within is quite intense, dark and doesn’t let up until the last few frames of the movie. The violence is quite extreme and carnage depicted in the beginning sequence and may turn some people off, but it serves to set the mood for what is to follow. The audience is pulled into a quasi-parable of good vs. evil, yet ironically, good is a gradient of gray and not pure white as embodied by Wong, who possesses both virtues of good and the vice of evil as he succumbs to the dark side.
The film is highly entertaining if you are willing to overlook some plot holes and plausibility issues. Recommended.
oneleaf’s Rating: 7/10